Translated and edited by Joachim Neugroschel


Why did Rachel weep? She didn't know why herself, and she didn't even feel she was weeping. For a long time, her heart had been heavy, very heavy, and suddenly it was soaked through, it overflowed, it poured out its tears. Rachel, as we've already said, felt that she was lonesome, that she was lacking something, that something was missing, but what it was she didn't know and couldn't know. Rachel knew perfectly well that her parents had married her off, gotten her off their backs. The term "off their backs" is enough to show how separated people get: children from parents and parents from children. The term "off their backs" can often be heard among us Jews, in almost every family. The term "off their backs" is a terrible shame, an insult to our entire nation, which boasts of being so compassionate.... Most of all, Rachel was annoyed my Moyshe-Mendel, by his behavior and his actions towards her. Rachel understood what part she played for her gem of a husband with her beauty and kindness, with her virtue and loyalty. Rachel saw what she meant to him....
And lately, Rachel had been especially upset, confused, bewildered. What she had endured with Stempeniu was no trifle. Rachel, pious Rachel, who had never swerved from her Jewish way of life by even a gnat's eyelash, who had never transgressed even the most insignificant rule of all the laws for Jewish women, Rachel, a Jewish wife immersed in the Yiddish Bible - thinking about another man, receiving a letter from him, meeting with him - and she didn't resist. On the contrary, she felt so drawn to him, not with a bad thought, God forbid, but just like that, to see him and hear him play the violin.
Oh, his music, his music! Rachel would have been willing to give up food and sleep forever so long as she could hear Stempeniu, hear him and... see him! His eyes, when they gazed, they warmed, they caressed, they pampered.... Oh, his eyes!
Rachel grabbed her head with both hands and listened to her temples beating, her heart beating, and her soul yearned, yearned. She didn't know what was happening to her. She pulled the quilt up over her head and saw her old friend Haia-Etel, may she rest in peace. Rachel remembered that story of Haia-Etel and Benjamin, and a frost ran through her body. She pushed the quilt away and suddenly she heard a very familiar melody, a familiar sound of a familiar violin. Rachel thought she was imagining it, but the music came nearer and nearer, it was the kind of music they play to escort the in-laws home after a wedding. Rachel had already heard and recognized what was being played, she also realized that it was Stempeniu playing away on the violin, and she had no doubts that it was Stempeniu accompanying the in-laws home after the wedding dinner. But what was he doing here? There was no wedding on this street tonight and there were no in-laws here! What could it mean? But the drum and the cymbal came nearer and nearer. The whole band was playing with a vengeance, but more clearly than anything else she could hear Stempeniu's violin, for its sweet melody, its tender song were subduing all the other instruments.
Rachel couldn't lie still. She leaped out of bed, strode over to the window, opened it, and leaned way, way out.
Rachel hadn't seen such a night for a long time. The moon was strolling in the middle of the sky and it was surrounded by millions of stars - diamonds twinkling and glistening. The air was warm, soft, and fresh. No breeze whatsoever, so that the high poplars looming in the big Monastery Garden stood tall and erect like sentries on guard. No leaf stirred. But seldom, very seldom, a lovely scent of fragrant herbs came wafting from there, and it was very welcome in Mazepevke, which had a different smell during the day ....
And this wonderful night was so fitting for our lovely Rachel, pure, virtuous, beautiful Rachel with her long, white throat, and the rich blond hair lying scattered upon it. (Ah, could Rachel have thought at such a time that the moon and the author of this novel could see her own hair, without the marriage wig?) Her eyes were no less blue or pure than the pure, blue heavens, and her lovely, radiant face was no less beautiful than the lovely, radiant night. But Rachel's thoughts were elsewhere: Her mind was where the strange music could be heard and her heart was where Stempeniu's violin was.
The musicians were playing so sadly, as though they had only just buried someone, put him in the ground. For us, a joyous occasion comes out as weeping, and fun and pleasure make us shed tears.... Even gloomier was the music at midnight, when all the world was sound asleep and only a tiny group of Jews were celebrating with a dismal tune as they came home from the wedding dinner with lowered heads: What was it? Had parents gotten a child off their backs - please excuse me - taken care of a child, for goodness' sake - well, all right.... In this quiet, lovely summer night, you could hear Stempeniu's violin more clearly than ever, it grieved the heart, it drew the soul, it sapped your life's blood - and Rachel stood half-naked at the window, listening. She wanted to flee from there, close the window and flee, but she was shackled to the spot as if in irons, as if held by a magnet. She gazed and she listened so earnestly as though she weren't hearing his violin, as though she could hear him talking to her, pleading, begging, weeping.... And not only Rachel was listening to those beautiful melodies from Stempeniu's violin in the radiant summer night: The moon and the stars, the soft, fresh air, all nature and all her creatures awoke from their slumber and got up for a moment to find out what the strange singing was at midnight, what those sounds were at midnight.
The nocturnal chorister, the tardy nightingale in Monastery Garden, upon hearing that music, rolled up his sleeves and tried to show off his prowess as he likes to do; but now, in late summer, he couldn't sing more beautifully than Stempeniu's violin, for the poor bird had lost his voice at the end of spring, and all that remained was a screech, the kind that rises from a cantor's throat after the Days of Awe - if you'll forgive the blasphemous comparison.... The rooster, that screamer, heard the playing of the musicians and, thinking it was already dawn, stepped down from his perch, flapped his wings, mumbled his morning prayers, let out his usual cockadoodledoo with a cantorial cantillation, and then went back to his rest, furious that he had been bothered for nothing.... Even the dogs, the hounds, far away, on Monastery Street, at first began barking and howling, as is their custom, upon hearing the Jewish musicians in the middle of the night, and then they fell silent and looked for places to sleep. Even the cow, Dvosse-Malke's chestnut cow, stopped chewing her cud near the house, perked up her ears, and let out a deep moan from her belly, like a sinful Jew. And the neighbor's two goats got so excited that they sprang up from the ground and changed places, menacing each other with their horns. In short, all things and creatures came alive, showing that they could hear the music in that warm, silent, radiant, magical summer night.
At the same time, our virtuous Rachel was standing at the window as though shackled in irons. She stood there, riveted, wonder-struck, in utter confusion. "Oh, what a night! Oh God, what a night this is!" She stood there, absorbing it with all her senses. She swallowed mouthfuls of the fresh air. She was totally spellbound. She gazed at the blue sky and remembered those summer nights when she was a girl, sitting in front of the house, gazing up at the white moonbeams while playing jacks and singing that old song:

The moon is shining through the night, 
And Pearl is sitting by the door, 
Sighing and moaning through the night, 
Alas, her heart is so sore! 
Sighing and moaning through the night, 
Alas, her heart is so sore!
She had sung the song in those bygone days, never understanding it, and now she did understand it, not fully, but she understood something and felt it. She felt that something was tugging at her, pulling her outside, into the open air. She felt hemmed in here, hot and ill, ill!... Rachel remembered another song that she used to sing as a girl, during summers, outside by the door.
I stand on the shore 
And I can't come to you, 
Oh you call me from afar - 
But I can't swim to you. 
Oh, you call me from afar, 
But I can't swim to you!
"From afar?" But he was so close now! He was right there, Stempeniu, with his violin, his long hair, his black, burning, fiery eyes, which were always staring at her and warming her with their glow, with their fire. And at that moment, she yearned to be near him forever, to be near him and listen to him playing forever, and see his beautiful eyes forever.... But there was one thing Rachel didn't understand: How had he come here, Stempeniu, at midnight, with his violin?
How had Stempeniu come here with the in-laws? She simply couldn't understand, no matter how hard she thought about it. Rachel remembered that there had been a wedding somewhere near the synagogue. How had the in-laws gotten here? She understood the mystery only when she saw them very close by, almost at her house, the musicians and the in-laws. She solved the riddle only when she saw Stempeniu halting right at her house, right next to her window, and starting to play more freshly, more ardently. Now Rachel understood what Stempeniu had done: He had taken along the whole crew, all the in-laws, all the guests, from a dozen streets away, past her window, and for whom? At first, it was very pleasurable for her, and her heart was so joyful that it almost sprang from her breast. And willy-nilly, Rachel burst into such merry laughter that she was frightened by her own voice, she looked at herself standing there half-naked, her throat bare, without her marriage wig - and she hastily jumped away from the window, slammed it shut, and threw herself into the bed.
"Oh God, oh God!" thought Rachel. "The things you can do if you don't notice where you are! Standing naked in the middle of the night, at the window, in front of a crowd of men, thinking about such vain, silly things, having such ugly thoughts about someone like Stempeniu.... And Stempeniu - leading a whole congregation of Jews along a dozen streets - for what, for whom? It takes a lot of nerve to do a thing like that!... Where does he get such nerve?... I have to ask him. He has to stop doing that! He's making me miserable!... I have to have it out with him once and for all. What's that old saying: 'It's better to let off steam right away!'... He tells me a fairy-tale: Lovey-dovey! 'Very respectable I swear, Saturday night,' he says, 'on Monastery Street,' that's where he'll make his intentions clear.... I wish it were Saturday night already so I could hear what it's all about. Of course I'll go, why should I be scared? Scared of whom? Jews should only be scared of God!... It's a disaster, it's an evil spell.... There are good reasons why people tell all those stories.... But what does he want from me, what does he want? And who's to blame if not me? You mustn't give someone else even your little finger.... If Moyshe-Mendel were here now, I'd tell him everything. But where is he? Does he ever listen to me? What does he care if I'm miserable, if I'm in agony?... Oh, I ought to pray. It's no good not praying!...
"For Thy Redemption I hope, oh Lord, 
I hope, oh Lord, for Thy Redemption, 
Oh Lord, for Thy Redemption I hope."
Rachel buried herself deep, deep into the pillows, covered herself up with the quilt so as not to hear the musicians, and prayed out loud: "For Thy Redemption I hope, oh Lord." But they came sneaking in through the window, the sweet songs of Stempeniu's violin, growing softer and fainter and farther away. And Rachel prayed:
"For Thy Redemption I hope, oh Lord. 
I hope, oh Lord, for Thy Redemption, 
Oh Lord, for Thy Redemption I hope...."
And Stempeniu's violin was almost inaudible in the distance. And the last sounds were dying out. And Rachel's eyes gradually closed, and her lips were whispering, almost inaudibly:
"For Thy Redemption....
I hope... for Thy Redemption .
...I hope...."
And Rachel fell asleep.

Rachel fell asleep and she dreamt that Stempeniu was putting a string of coral around her neck.... On one side stood her father-in-law in his prayer shawl and prayer thongs, and Freydel was hitting and smacking him for all she was worth.... Moyshe-Mendel was dead-drunk, he was straddling a poker, making crazy faces, and Stempeniu was putting a string of coral around her neck.... On the other side stood Haia-Etel in her Sabbath best, decked out like a princess, smiling so joyously, so sweetly, and
lighting many candles.
"What are you doing, Haia-Etel?" asked Rachel. "Why are you lighting so many candles?"
"How can you ask," Haia-Etel answered, laughing. "It's the Eve of Sabbath, it's time to light the candles and say the blessing!..." Rachel looked at the candles burning brightly and shining, and Stempeniu was putting a string of coral around her neck.... He stood next to her, so close that she could hear him breathing. He stood there gazing straight into her eyes, warming her with his stare. Rachel was happy, she laughed and sang, and Stempeniu was putting a string of coral around her neck.
Suddenly, the candles went out. Haia-Etel and everyone and everything vanished. It was pitch-black and icy cold, like a cellar, like a grave.... The wind whistled and blasted, and a singing could be heard, a gloomy singing: a violin was playing, once again a familiar violin. Stempeniu's violin. Stempeniu himself wasn't there, but his violin could be heard, yet it was so sad, so gloomy, like the ne'ilah, the last prayer on Yom Kippur. And there was the sound of weeping and sobbing. It was Haia-Etel crying for her youth, which had sped by so quickly, like a dream, crying for her darling Benjamin, who had left her for someone else, forgetting Haia-Etel, forgetting....
"Oh, Mama!" screamed Rachel and woke up, turned over on her other side, fell asleep, and dreamt again, all kinds of dreams. She was bewildered all night long, and she thought she could feel Stempeniu next to her, putting a string of coral around her neck.... Then Haia-Etel returned with black candles, crying, mourning, reading prayers out loud: "Almighty Father in heaven, powerful God, Lord of all lords, King of all kings, who art only God from eternity to eternity! May our ardent prayers reach Thee and be granted by Thee. Hear the prayers of the pure souls who stand before Thy Throne of Glory and plead to Thee on our behalf and for the living on the earth, who are as full of sins as a pomegranate is full of seeds, and our forefathers...."
Haia-Etel spoke the prayers out loud. She wept, she grieved, she lamented - and she disappeared.

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